With discarded boxes and their relatively poor but enthusiastic acting, Grade 4 students of Lamplaimat Pattana School ably demonstrated how electricity is generated.
When questions were asked, a number of Grade 2 students in their audience raised their hands to answer. Though uncertain of the answers, the youngsters did not hesitate to participate in the "Share and Show" period, designed to disseminate ones' knowledge to others.
"We believe that it's best to have students share their knowledge. The younger ones may not know this. If the older ones want to share, the younger are all ready to learn and we will skip the scheduled discussion for this show," said Sirikarn Inpitak , Grade 2 teacher.
The students' enthusiasm was extraordinary and well exemplified the school's revolutionary philosophy: the learning process is more important than teaching methods, to ensure learning sustainability.
At the private school, established by the Population and Community Development Association (PDA) and the James Clark Foundation, the big classroom where students recite teachers' words without understanding them does not exist. At this school, the world of knowledge is open to all and all should be supported to reach their full potential. As such, students' thirst for knowledge comes first. Taken as humans who need guidance to get their desired knowledge, the students make a decision with teachers about a single subject to be studied in a 10week semester without any textbooks. And included in the curriculum are courses designed for the unprejudiced learning of the world around them like fishing and rice growing.
Everyday, the 230 students, all livฌing in a 40km radius and enrolled under a draw, start the day with meditation to draw their attention to activities like writing, skills learning, digital research, and art and music. In whatever they do, the students get no scores to avoid comparison at the end of semesters. There is no test, as the school adopts a new educational paradigm whereby students learn that everyone is equal and can be a great person, and that learning is not just for life but learning is life. Homework is given in small volume only to ensure their responsibility.
Doubts emerged as to how stuฌdents would fare in national tests with the unconventional teaching method.
"Our students' ONet (ordinary national education test for Grade 6 students) score is 10 points above the national average," said the principal, Wichien Chaiyabang.
"We don't take government tests seriously, though. Testing is just one of 10 evaluation methods. Students fail in a test but they may prosper in unknown areas.
"Our goal here is to show all that this demonstration school can create better students than public schools at relatively similar budgets. From this small school, we aim to create a butterfly effect. I believe that this will influence both students and teachers."
Against Bt700,000 per head per year at international schools, the average cost of this school is Bt36,000.
Wichien did not hide the fact that it is extremely difficult to achieve the school's goals.
It starts with teachers who must share the goal. Only 16 teachers were selected from 700 applicants, and they are hired regardless of grades as their view of life, enthusiasm, and experience matter more.
"Grades are nothing. It's sad that people can graduate whenever they pay the tuition fees," the principal said.
Teachers must treat students fairly and promote their best talents. They must fail no student, as all should have positive selfesteem and keep improving themselves. To keep the goal intact, the teachers are required to attend a weekly meeting, which can be chaired by any of them. At the meeting, they share their experiences, so that good solutions can be adopted by others.
New teachers must work under existing teachers' care, and after a year of training they are ready to teach the students, 70 per cent of whom are the children of local farmers.
The school was evaluated by the University of Tasmania in Australia, which found that its efficient teaching and learning method was at the same level as international schools. Throughout six 6 years, the school has welcomed a number of visitors, local and foreign, including Prime Minister Abhisit and former PM Thaksin Shinawatra. About 1,000 teachers come to the school for training every year.
But in its seventh year, the James Clark Foundation has stopped its funding and the school has had to raise their own funds. Aside from donations and a school shop which for three years has sold over 10,000 school Tshirts, the company that owns the school has a publishing house. With 10 items in the market now, the publishing house plans to make available about 3040 teaching patterns.
Despite the hard work, the principal is pleased with the result.
"I'm extremely happy, observing the children's talks and their presentations. The school will never charge tuition fees. [Despite the financial hurdles], we will stay. We can, with quality products."